THE BANK DICK: The Essentials
Despite his wife's nagging, champion tippler Egbert Souse (pronounced "Soo-say") spends his time avoiding work so he can hang out at his favorite watering hall, The Black Pussy Cat Cafe, but jobs keep falling into his lap. After a brief attempt to fill in for a drunken movie director, he encounters a bank robber which accidentally leads to the man's arrest. Labeled a hero, he's hired as a security expert at the bank, where his daughter's fiance works. His major accomplishments are confiscating a child's toy gun and convincing his future son-in-law to embezzle $500 so he can invest in a con artist's get-rich-quick scheme, the Beefsteak Mine. Before the investment can pay off, the bank examiner shows up to check the books, leading to a series of ruses and a madcap chase to cover up the illegal activity.
Director: Edward F. Cline
Producer: Cliff Work
Screenplay: Mahatma Kane Jeeves (W.C. Fields)
Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner
Editing: Arthur Hilton
Art Direction: Jack Otterson, Richard H. Riedel
Music: Frank Skinner
Cast: W.C. Fields (Egbert Souse), Cora Witherspoon (Agatha Souse), Una Merkel (Myrtle Souse), Evelyn Del Rio (Elsie Mae Adele Brunch Souse), Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Hermisillo Brunch), Franklin Pangborn (J. Pinkerton Snoopington), Shemp Howard (Joe Guelpe), Dick Purcell (Mackley Q. Greene), Grady Sutton (Og Oggilby), Russell Hicks (J. Frothingham Waterbury), Jack Norton (A. Pismo Clam), Reed Hadley (Francois), Eddie Acuff (Reporter), Patsy Moran (Lady with Fruit Hat)
Why THE BANK DICK is Essential
The Bank Dick ranks with It's a Gift (1934) in many critics' estimations as W.C. Fields' funniest and best movie. Tipping the scales in this film's favor is the fact that Fields had more artistic control on this film than on any of his others. Of special appeal to his fans is The Bank Dick's combination of his usual acerbic one-liners aimed at such middle-class institutions as matrimony, child-rearing and temperance with moments of inspired pantomime showing off Fields' physical dexterity as a juggler. In one great bit, he wads up a paper napkin, throws it in the air, catches it on his foot and kicks it away, making the elaborate routine look easy.
One of the great joys of Fields' films was their irreverent attitude toward the institutions most movies enshrined. While MGM's "Andy Hardy" films and imitations at other studios depicted a whitewashed view of family life with saintly mothers, wise fathers and adoring if mischievous offspring, Fields presented the family as a hotbed of resentments. In The Bank Dick, two scenes in particular are almost nightmare visions of the typical Hollywood family; one occurs in which his wife, mother-in-law and younger daughter interrupt his chance to direct a film by demanding he make a role for the daughter and another in which his attempts to tell the family about his "heroic" capture of a bank robber are met with indifference and hostility In addition, the film's depiction of Egbert's triumph, with a family that now adores him because he has made them rich, leaving him all the time he wants in which to get drunk, seems to thumb its nose at conventional morality and the middle-class work ethic. The Bank Dick is the only film in which his character not only triumphs because of his departure from conventional values but makes it through to the final frame without any hint of reforming himself.
The Bank Dick was the first solo vehicle Fields made under a new contract at Universal Pictures after declining box office and studio interference led to a parting of the ways with Paramount. He had come to the studio in 1939, but initially they had hedged their bets by teaming him first with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy in You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939) and then Mae West in My Little Chickadee (1940). The box office successes of both films, particularly the latter, brought him back with full control over this film.
Biographers have suggested The Bank Dick gives some insight into Fields' contempt for his Hollywood bosses. During the sequence in which he attempts to direct a film, he takes the stars aside and completely changes the picture's plot. As absurdity piles upon absurdity, a production assistant takes down his off-the-cuff ideas. Later, Egbert learns that the studio's management has bought his absurd plot, convinced it will make a great movie. In a sense, that's exactly what happened when he got Universal to bankroll The Bank Dick.
by Frank Miller